Archaeologists Discover Slave Artifacts Were Georgia Highway Project Will Cross Georgia Plantation Site
, Russ Bynum, Associated Press, December 1, 2013.
A Mexican coin punctured with a small hole, nails from long-decayed
wooden dwellings, and broken bits of plates and bottles are among
thousands of artifacts unearthed from what archaeologists suspect were
once slave quarters at the site of a planned highway project in
A team hired to survey the site by the Georgia Department of Transportation
spent three months excavating 20 acres of undeveloped woods tucked
between a convenience store and apartments off busy Abercorn Extension
on Savannah's suburban south side. Archaeologist Rita Elliott said the
project yielded a staggering 33,858 artifacts believed to date from
about 1750 until after the Civil War.
Historical records show that a wealthy Savannah
attorney named William Miller owned a large plantation at the site and
at one time had 87 slaves, Elliott said. Archaeologists didn't find the
main plantation house but believe many of the artifacts they found are
consistent with slave dwellings.
"These people are pretty anonymous in the historical
records," Elliott said. "The archaeology may not tell us much about
their names, but it will tell us about their lives."
As for the sheer volume of items recovered at the site, Elliott said, "It's not unheard of. But this is a lot of artifacts." The plantation site had plenty of high ground that
probably would have been used for growing row crops, while the
lower-lying marshlands would have been suitable for growing rice.
Records show that two planters owned the land until Miller bought it all
in the mid-1850s.
Clusters of nails found in the ground indicate that
buildings were made from wood instead of brick, Elliott said.
Archaeologists uncovered small pits used to store items in the floors of
dwellings and dug up no window glass, further evidence the site had
crude structures occupied by slaves.
Archaeologists found a silver Mexican coin from 1831
with a hole punched near the edge, as if it had been worn as a pendant.
An 1865 penny was recovered from a pit. Researchers also found fragments
of brick, broken dishes and bottles, a cast iron pot and a small brass
A small part of the site also turned up clues that some
Union troops of Gen. William T. Sherman camped out at the site around
the time Savannah was seized in1864. Archaeologists found bullets from
muskets and uniform buttons, as well as what appear to be spikes used to
hold down tents.
Elliott said records show that some of Sherman's troops
marched right through Miller's plantation en route to Savannah. She
estimates that several hundred camped there.
The archaeological work was ordered as part of the
pre-construction phase of a $30.3 million dollar project to elevate Ga.
204, which links Savannah's south side to Interstate 95, above a busy
residential crossing. Archaeological research was required for the
project because it uses federal transportation money. Construction is
scheduled to begin next year. "It is rare, and it's an opportunity that we enjoy,"
Georgia DOT spokeswoman Jill Nagel said of the plantation discovery.
"We're preserving Savannah's history."
Since field work at the site ended in May,
archaeologists have kept busy in the laboratory cleaning and examining
each artifact, looking for clues to piece together the stories of slaves
who lived on Miller's plantation. Eventually the artifacts will be turned over to the University of West Georgia in Carrollton for safe keeping.
: TribTown, December 1 2013
Image Source: Memphis Commerical Appeal, December 1, 2013